Saturday, May 10, 2008


The past three years, I have spent a good deal of time popping in and out of Nelson Gables, the local assisted living facility cleverly disguised as a five-star hotel. Also, the past two weeks, I have made many visits to Knute Nelson Nursing Home, which unfortunately cannot be disguised as anything but a nursing home, albeit a five-star nursing home.

In both of these facilities, the lobbies are often littered (did I say littered??) with old people, sitting in chairs—just sitting. And in both of these facilities, I am reminded a book by Andrew Weil, M.D., called Healthy Aging, which contains all kinds of good, practical advice about how to grow old the best way we possibly can. But there was one chapter in the book (Chapter 15 on The Mind: Thoughts, Attitudes, and Emotions) where Dr. Weil really hits home when he says that older people worry about three things: they don’t want to suffer, they don’t want to be a burden, and they don’t want to have an unmeaningful life.

So here they are, scores of old people, sitting in chairs, lying on beds, often living exactly the end-of-life scenario they’ve always feared. It’s in these two places that I’ve realized that the mental part of growing old often requires more outright courage than the physical part.

Dr. Weil ridicules all the advertised miracle treatments—lotions, potions, cosmetics, surgeries, and anti-aging gimmicks—that promise the fountain of youth. And then he goes on to tell the REAL secret to aging successfully. If we go to a doctor who prescribes drugs for our “old lady/old man” syndromes, he emphatically encourages us to make life changes before resorting to drugs:

1. the strong correlation between physical activity and successful aging
2. the importance of healthy eating and the folly of vitamins/supplements as a replacement for healthy eating
3. the value of sleep and rest
4. the importance of touch
5. the power of minimizing (changing your reaction to) stress
6. the science of happiness (live with nature, unlearn ‘judging’ habits, learn what you have the power to change and not change)
7. the need for flexibility and humor

I go into my tirades about my resolution to "just say no" to drugs—and how I’m going to put myself out to sea on an ice floe when I get old. Healthy Aging just underscores how common that feeling is. Here I thought I was so unique in feeling I don’t want to suffer, be a burden, be meaningless, yada yada. Ironically, it turns out that every geezer in town feels the same (humbling to see how normal I am).

I think I need to start spending more time at day care centers and nursery schools rather than these assisted living and nursing home places. I’m starting to worry about things I won’t need to worry about for another 25 years. But the list above—different story. I need to live that list, starting yesterday!

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